Cooking appliances are the workhorses of the kitchen, they are used at almost every meal. It is important to research the makes and models of different brands to find the ones that best suit your lifestyle, cooking capability and budget. A good cook can turn out a great meal on almost any piece of equipment, but a great piece of equipment may inspire an indifferent cook to become a great home chef!
Let's take a closer look at these popular cooking appliances.
Coffee Systems: For true coffee aficionados, having a built-in coffee system in the kitchen is a true must have! These systems grind fresh beans to make coffee, cappuccino, or espresso at the touch of a button. They can be programmed to the strength you like and to fill your favorite size cup or mug precisely. Some models are plumbed to a water line, and some have a water tank that is filled fresh for each batch of coffee. There are some models that grind fresh coffee beans, and others that use capsules such as Nespresso. When seriously considering a built-in home coffee system, planning with your kitchen designer is a must. Miele is a good brand to research when planning a built-in coffee system for the home.
Cooktops: These cooking appliances are available in a variety of sizes and types today. You can choose electric, induction or gas, drop-in or rangetop style, and features such as number of burners, grills, griddles and heat output.
Drop-in cooktops are available in electric, induction and gas models--typically in 30" or 36" widths. The number of burners depends on the size. A 30" will usually have 4 burners, a 36" five or six. Electric or induction models may have different size burners to accommodate small to large pots, and may have a bridge burner for griddle or grill accessories. Gas models will have continuous grates for ease of moving pots and pans about, and the burners will have different size BTU capacity.
Electric cooktops typically come in 30" or 36" sizes, with smooth ceramic glass tops, or the older electric coil burners (found in lower-priced brands of cooking appliances). The heating power in electric cooktops in measured in wattage with different size burners having different wattages--the higher the wattage, the more electricity it uses and the faster water will boil. Burners typically use between 1,200 and 3,200 watts. A 30" electric smooth top may have four burners, but one or two of them may have two or three zones to accommodate different size pans. A 36" may have five or six burners and one of them may be have a bridge element.
Induction cooktops are gaining in popularity, but they are typically more expensive than electric. Induction cooking uses electromagnetic energy to heat the pot and its contents without heating the cooking element itself, and is thus safer than other cooktops. Induction also cooks faster, and will boil water more quickly than an electric surface, while giving you finer temperature control than gas. You must have iron-based cookware to use with an induction cooktop like cast iron or stainless steel--aluminum, glass, and copper will not work. You can check the bottom of your cookware with a magnet. If it sticks, it is compatible with induction cooktops.
Gas drop-in cooktops are favored cooking appliances of home chefs. 36" gas cooktops are very popular as they add one or two additional burners than typical 30" cooktop. Look for a range of BTU sizes on burners--this will give you a range of power to do anything from searing steaks to making delicate sauces. Most will have continuous cast iron grates that make it easy to slide heavy pots from burner to burner. For easy cleanup, look for sealed burner models and a deep well to contain spills.
Rangetops. Of all the cooking appliances introduced into the market over the past few years, rangetops have gained in popularity because they have great presence in the kitchen, and have similar cooking capability to a full range at a less expensive price. Rangetops look like the upper cooktop portion of the range without the oven(s). These are typically available in 30', 36', or 48" sizes in gas models, and in limited sizes (30' or 36") in electric or induction models. Most brands offer several different burner configurations in models over 30". A 48" rangetop, for instance, may be available with eight burners, six burners with a grill or griddle or four burners with a grill and griddle. A rangetop will require a special cabinet for installation due to its height and front controls. This is easily done if you are installing new cabinets in your kitchen. If you currently have a 30" range or drop-in cooktop, and you would like to install, say, a 36" rangetop, it most probably will not be feasible without cabinetry changes.
Modules: Modules are individual cooking appliances that give you the flexibility to mix and match the units to suit your type of cooking. They typically come in 12" or 15" sizes. Do you like to steam vegetables or deep fry fish? Then there are special steamer and fryer units that can be installed in the countertop just like a cooktop. There are also gas, electric, and induction modules, as well as teppan yaki grills and wok burners. So it is possible to gang together a combination of cooking appliance elements based upon your preferences. You can span the range of modules under one large hood for ventilation, or some manufacturers make special downdraft ventilation units to use with their modules. Look at Cook-N-Dine, Gaggenau, Miele, and Wolf for module cooking appliances.
Ovens: In a kitchen, the most common cooking appliance combination is a range which combines the cooktop with an oven, or a drop-in cooktop with built-in double ovens. It depends upon how much space is available as to which configuration will work best. If space allows, many will choose the cooktop/oven option for the flexibility. Whether you need a single or double oven depends on how, and how often, you cook or bake. Most ovens today include a convection feature which is a fan at the back of the unit that circulates the hot air evenly throughout the chamber for uniform and quicker cooking. The convection feature allows you to cook several dishes at one time on different racks without flavor transference, so you may find that a single oven can do the work of a double oven most of the time. However, if you want to broil and bake at the same time, or you have a large family or entertain frequently, a double oven makes perfect sense. Look for ovens with easy glide-out racks, meat probes and rotisseries. Some ovens even feature a programmable function that allows you to choose the perfect time and temperature setting for the perfect result.
At the 2014 K/BIS conference in Las Vegas, Viking won 1st Place in the People's Choice Awards with its new French door double oven. The upper oven has double doors so you can easily remove food from it without having the door in the way. Look for other brands to follow suit.
Ranges: In cooking appliances, the trend is toward commercial-style ranges that have been adapted for home use. If you love to cook, these are a must! Not only are they great looking, but they generate more BTU's (British Thermal Units) for professional cooking power. Also, the variety of features such as additional burners, grills, griddles, and warming ovens provide great flexibility. Some are available in all gas, but increasingly most are dual-fuel--combining a gas cooktop for greater control with an electric convection oven for better baking. While there are certainly all electric ranges with smooth glass ceramic tops and induction ranges, the gas and dual-fuel ones offer the most options in size and configuration. Blue Star, Dacor, FiveStar, G.E. Monogram, Thermador, Viking, and Wolf make excellent ones. Viking's are available in many colors as well as white, black, and stainless steel.
The famous AGA (Amalgamated Gas Accumulator), that fixture of the English country house, has no knobs or dials. Its radiant heat is always on, with each element tuned to the proper temperature.
Then there's the La Cornue line from France. Gorgeous, very expensive, but ever-so-chic, the ultimate range for style.
Of course, these super ranges are expensive, but they're a joy to use and considerably increase your home's resale value.
Microwaves: The microwave is an essential cooking appliance in our kitchens today, and there are more options than ever. We all know the convenience of an over-the-range microwave (OTR). These do save space, they work well over a typical 30" range, and sometimes they are the best solution; but if you are planning a major kitchen makeover that includes a powerful range, rangetop or cooktop, then you will also need more correspondingly powerful ventilation that an OTR microwave cannot deliver.
Good microwave solutions include built-ins that can go above a single oven in a tall oven cabinet, deep wall cabinet or base cabinet; microwave drawers that can be installed under a cooktop or in a base drawer cabinet; or freestanding microwaves that can sit on a shelf, counter, or in the pantry. It's very interesting that aside from microwave drawers that slide out, all microwaves are hinged on the left--have no clue why that should be!
Speed Ovens: Speed ovens combine the fast cooking time of microwaves with the heat distribution of convection ovens. Typically, they can be used in microwave only mode or in combination with convection. The greater versatility makes it an ideal second oven. Miele makes a good one.
Ventilation: If you are going to have powerful, professional-style cooking appliances, you should have equally powerful, professional-style ventilation--no ifs, ands, or buts. Cooking creates a lot of heat, steam, smoke, odors and grease--none of which you want to accumulate in your house--or your lungs. To eliminate airborne particles it is necessary to vent them outside. A chimney-style hood with ducting through the roof or exterior wall is the most efficient means to ventilate. Experts advise to use your vent hood every time you cook--though some of us just see it as a decorative feature and only use it when we burn something!
A stainless steel hood is fine, though they tend to look more commercial or industrial. There are some nice contemporary designs out there in stainless steel and glass. If you want a hood that matches your cabinetry, there are many design possibilities. These would be fitted with a stainless steel liner that would do the hard work unseen--as shown on the custom wood hood below over a Wolf rangetop. Whether exposed or hidden, hoods also provide lighting over the cooktop or range.
Downdraft ventilation is also popular, but it is not as efficient as the updraft of a chimney hood or liner is due to the fact that heat, etc. rises, and therefore, a downdraft must work harder to compensate. Downdrafts work best with drop-in cooktops, they are not really designed to go with ranges or rangehoods due to the extra depth of those appliances.
Over-the-hood microwaves, unless vented out, merely recirculate the air into the kitchen and don't really do much to ventilate. Sometimes it is necessary to use a reventilating hood in an apartment building or condominium where the building structure does not allow for direct to exterior ventilation.
Warming Drawers: Warming drawers are great helpers to have in the kitchen especially if you like to entertain a lot. They may not be cooking appliances, per se, but they have many great uses like keeping hors d'oeuvres warm during a party, keeping a latecomer's supper warm, heating rolls and dinner plates. They also come in handy to keep pancakes and waffles warm while making more batches, and can be used for making yeast dough rise. They are not so good for keeping crispy foods crispy, and some foods like steaks and fish will continue to cook and may become overdone. But because the food is not subjected to direct heat as in the oven, it stays warm and moist. Plan to place the warming drawer either in the oven cabinet or near the range or cooktop where it is convenient to use.
Plant of the Month